Marcus Visionary has been at the forefront of the Jungle DNB scene in Toronto Canada before it's very inception. He's often referred to as Canada's #1 DNB & Jungle export as well as being an ambassador for the ever-evolving Jungle DNB sound worldwide. Marcus is one of the few artists out of North America who has built a strong foundation in the U.K & Europe as well as in the U.S. The journey started in 2004 when he was personally signed to the legendary Digital Soundboy family by Shy FX himself. Marcus joined the elite all-star line-up alongside the likes of Benny Page, Breakage, Mark System, Stamina MC & B Traits. Since then, he has travelled the world and played some of the biggest festivals and clubs representing his unique take on the Jungle DNB sound. Priding himself on upfront selection, clean mixing, musical versatility, and a keen ability to read any crowd. Not to mention his collection of Dubplate specials which is something that has earned him fans the world over.
We thought it was time we caught up with Marcus for a little chin-wag…
Hi Mate. How's things and what have you been up to this week??
Things have been extra busy & hectic recently. I had to move my parents on Saturday, then close the Destiny presents Pendulum show from 2-4 a.m. on Friday at Coda nightclub. It was one of the hardest days I've actually experienced in my career. Started the day at 6:30 a.m. and got to bed after 6 a.m. When life & work collide it makes you stronger, but it was challenging mentally & physically.
Can you give me a brief bit of background on yourself. Where you were born, where you grew up, what school you went to etc… and what did you do for work before you started in music?
I was born in a suburb of Toronto called Scarborough. I spent my Public school years in an area called Malvern. It was very ethnically mixed. Many people from the Caribbean, italian & greek etc. It was a melting pot of culture. I went to Malvern Junior Public school. The area was a little rough around the edges so in Grade 6 my parents decided to move us East to get me away from any bad elements. We moved to East Scarborugh which at the time was a calmer less urban area. My love of music definitely started when we lived in Malvern. My neighbours Peter & Chris Wilson were into DJ'ing, Rollerskating, & Breakdancing. As a young kid I gravitated toward all of these things. Experiencing the birth of Hip Hop from Electro. I was immersed in Funk music of that era. My family is Guyanese so Caribbean music & culture also had a major impact on my musical tastes.
So musically, lets start right at the beginning… Going way back, before raves, before jungle, before Digital Soundboy, Liondub, Inner City Dance and all that good stuff… What is your very earliest musical memory?
My family sponsored my relatives from Guyana to Canada, so we always had family staying with us. Our house was a meeting place for our family starting out in Canada. When the weekend came it was parties, getting together etc. My cousins would take turns setting up speakers in the basement for larger parties. Watching my families house parties had a massive impact on me. The way the music was programmed thru the night. From Soul, Rnb, Funk, Disco, to Calypso, Soca, Reggae, & golden oldies or slow dancing music. There was an art to programming those nights and creating atmosphere & manipulating peoples emotions. I think I learned how to read a crowd even before I learned how to DJ.
When you were growing up, what music was likely to being played in your house? In other words… What was the soundtrack to your youth? And how did this music effect your future?
I grew up on a melting pot of Caribbean music. Calypso, Soca, Reggae, Lovers Rock, Dub, Classic Soul from Motown & Stax, Funk, Disco, Boogie, RnB. In the early 80's I was really into the early Electro Hip Hop sound that was happening during the Breakdance period. I followed along as that evolved into Hip Hop. Another major influence on me was the emerging Dancehall sound. I loved Yellowman & all of the early Dancehall that was coming out of Jamaica. Reggae was always my foundation. Bunny Wailer, Dennis Brown, Sanchez, Beres Hammond, Bob Marley, Freddie McGregor, John Holt etc. Those artists felt like family members as they were played in our house so much. My brother was really into all types of classic Rock music. My sister loved her Pop Music so music was everywhere in my house when I was younger.
So you grew up in Toronto? How was the Jungle scene there in the 90’s?
Before the Jungle scene we were attending warehouse parties that played all of the early House music. The rave scene really started developing in 1991 with the early Breakbeat Hardcore sound. By 1992 when the Reggae influence was coming thru more in the music I was hooked. Our scene was being developed by a few British & Scottish Expats. The first company was called Exodus. After that Sykosis, Chemistry, Nitrous, Pleasure Force, Infinity, Syrous and many more followed. I started my company Delirium in December 1992.
In your neighbourhood, as a kid, was there some older kids that took you under their wing and influenced you in music? Please share the story…
In Malvern Peter & Chris Wilson definitely had a big influence on my early musical development introducing me to DJ'ing, Breakdancing, Roller skating etc. Once I moved further East, I had a friend named Trevor Welshman that mentored me and really showed me the ropes when it came to DJ'ing. Much of what I learned in his basement I still practice to this day!
I have been playing your music for quite a few years now. I have noticed lots of oldskool rave elements, which I love… I think you are a bit of an oldskool raver at heart? Discuss…
Something about the early 90's for me was so special. Especially 91-95. The spirit of that music was so unique. There was a lot of melody, vocals, pads etc. On top of the fact that they were sampling some of the best Soul & Reggae music from that period. That melting pot of styles & the feel good spirt of that time is what I try to recreate in my sets to this day.
What was the first rave you ever went to? And how did affect your life!!
I actually can't remember the first one but the biggest influence on me was definitely a rave series called 'Sykosis' which was held at a dark warehouse style club called 23 Hop in Toronto. The resident DJ/MC was a British expat named Dr. No who had a major influence on me in my early days. The other DJ's Ruffneck, Jungle Phd & Mark Oliver were class acts. I heard so much great Breakbeat Hardcore there in the early 90's. Sykosis definitely pushed me to start my rave company which was called 'Delirium'. Big up Ben Ferguson, Danny Henry & all the Sykosis crew.
What DJ really blew your mind back in the 90’s? and why?
From Canada it would have to be Dr. No. He was a great selector. He had charisma, a great MC voice, fashion sense. He inspired our entire city. From the U.K Randall was one step ahead of everyone. He was seamlessly mixing Hardcore & early Jungle with an ease that other DJ's just didn't do. 0.12
You started your music career as “Visionary” with Dave Whalen. How did you guys meet?
I'm fairly certain we met from the Rave scene. We started learning the craft in 1995. We then went on to share quite a few studios together over the next 10 plus years.
Do you guys still do music together and if not how come?
Dave has a family now and we just naturally moved on over time. Once I moved my studio into my Den I started to do more solo work.
I heard through the grapevine that Navi named you Marcus Visionary? Is this true? Tell us the story….
Yes. Navigator used to come to Toronto to perform and both of us love Reggae & Jungle so we clicked. One day I had Navi over to our studio to voice some dubs. While he was voicing I was saying big up 'Visionary' and he kept saying. Big up Marcus Visionary in many different ways. After the voicing was finished I told him that the two were separate and he said.. No man, you should be Marcus Visionary from now on, It has a ring to it. Up until that point I was just known as DJ Marcus. Big up Navi for that!
When did you first start learning to produce and are you self taught or did you go to college?
Dave and I got together in 1995. Dave got his hands on an Akai sampler, and we started playing around with it. We are both self taught but Dave understood some basic music theory and he was quite good with the technical side of things especially because things were Analogue back then.
What other producers did you see as your Influences back in the day… and now?
Potential Badboy and all of the early Ibiza stuff had a major influence on myself & also our city. The entire Reinforced camp, Noise Factory, Third Party, M Beat, Renk, Labello Blanco, Moving Shadow, Suburban Base. Roni Size & the Full Cycle camp. Dillinja, Photek, Shy FX and of course everything Metalheadz. Too many to mention!!
What was your first release as Marcus Visionary?
I can't recall my first solo ventures to be honest. My first solo album entitled 'Humble' came out thru Liondub International.
How did the link up with Shy FX come about and what do you see as your highlights from the Digital Soundboy years?
We linked up when he came over for one of our Junglist Movement events at Turbo nightclub. We connected as we both had a love for Reggae & Dancehall influenced DNB & Jungle. Bailey used to connect a lot of people with our early music via the AIM days. He sent Number 9 Dub & Gimme Me Your Love to Shy. They got played at Swerve one night and the next day the first person to call was Marcus Intalex who signed No. 9 Dub for Revolvr. Then Shy called & signed Gimme Your Love. I'm really thankful to Shy for those Digital Soundboy years as they helped me travel all over the world.
I’ve noticed that you have slowed some of your productions down recently. Do you prefer working at 160 – 165 as opposed to 175?
I really wanted to dig into the Breaks & Beats that work well at 160-165 bpm. It's refreshing that the original rave sounds are back in the mix. I'm still working at 170 + but I'll be exploring a variety of tempos in the future. I feel no guilt in saying I love the 90's nostalgia. Some of the best memories & times of my life that I hope I can convey in the new music I'm making.
You were signed to Liondub for 10 years? How did the link up come about and are you still working on projects with Erik?
Liondub came over for a gig in Toronto. At the time I was running a label called 'Liondubs' which was linked up by Digital who was working at Load Media Distribution at the time. I hadn't met or heard of Liondub yet. When we met he said he was working with many Reggae, Dancehall artists out of Jamaica. I had always hoped to work with real singers & deejays so we discussed working together and transforming Liondubs into Liondub International. He started sending over acapellas & before you know it the Humble LP was complete. We then went on to collaborate as 'Rumble' making some Dancehall & Jungle. Many of those projects are just coming out now. Big respect to Liondub who has built a label empire.
Can you remember the first time you heard one of your tunes played at a rave by a big established DJ? Who was the DJ and how did it make you feel seeing all those people going mental to something you had made?
I don't recall the first DJ but I fondly remember Fabio playing my track 'No Love' inside System nightclub when he came over to Toronto. It was a great time cause he told me he was hammering it regularly. It marked the beginning of our early production run. The track came out on Dj Flights Play:musik label and was supported by a lot of the big DJ's.. Vinyl was still running!
How has production changed over the years? Things were much different then right? How much more difficult was it to produce a record back then in comparison with now?
It's night & day. I remember pushing our mixing desk so hard with the distortion that we blew the channel a few times! Before the internet we were also mailing and handing off Dat tapes not sure if you'll ever hear anything from the DJ or label again! Now we just mixdown, upload & send. It's much easier these days!
I know you still have some hardware in your studio… Do you still use it a lot or have plug-ins taken over?
I'm 100% in the box now. I think the main difference is I still use Cubase 005. I've been using it for a very long time and I'm very comfortable with it. I will upgrade and purchase the latest version when I upgrade my new studio computer. Somehow I've been able to achieve a warm analogue sound using plug ins. Personally I think it comes down to your ear, how you use the plug ins and the sound engine of your DAW. I don't miss the analogue process. I feel like I have access to everything I need and want with my current crop of plug ins.
What is your favourite synth (hardware) and why do you like it so much?
When I was using hardware it was our EMU 3000. It had a great warmth to it in my opinion. I also loved our Juno 106 synth which was great for Bass sounds. Ironically we didn't end up using our EMU 3000 for very long because computer technology was improving so quickly. At one point we were using both analogue & digital but as time went on it became more convenient and less time consuming to go fully Digital. I blew out a few mixing desks as well which helped move the transition along a lot quicker.
Processing… can plug-ins actually do the job of real hardware compressors, saturators, distortion boxes etc… Discuss your reasoning…
This is down to personal opinion I believe. Many people think that my current material is fully analogue. I never feel limited and I've been able to achieve the sound I want. I'm always looking for new ways to make things warmer, fatter, louder but with dynamics. I'm also a big fan of ambient noise, background hiss, record scratch etc. It's the viny lover in me! My advice is get a great pair of Monitor speakers, some quality headphones and use your ears.
What plug-in could you absolutely not live without?
Kontakt is a staple. I love my V Station & Pentagon synths for my sub bass.
What DAW do you use and have you always used that one? Have you tried any of the others?
I've been a Cubase user since we started out. I love the layout. I know where everything is. I'm sure there are easier programs to use but I like the sound engine. It works for me!
Are you yourself a bit of a vinyl junkie…. In other words… Are you a vinyl collector yourself? If so how many do you have and what is your most treasured piece of vinyl?
I'm a big vinyl junkie. I still collect regularly and it has increased in the last two years. I've been playing more vinyl sets recently as well. I estimate I have about 30 crates. I would say my most treasured vinyl are my Tom & Jerry's. My Reinforced & Redskin collection is also right up there!
What was the first record you ever bought and how old were you?
My parents also came home from a trip to NYC with a copy of Rappers Delight by the Sugar Hill gang. I still have it to this day!
Have you still got ALL your records, or have you sold some over the years…??
I have most of my Hardcore, Jungle & DNB. I had some stolen from one of our studio spaces and I've spent many years re-buying some things that went missing. I also made the mistake of selling my UKG collection to a DJ that had promised to pay & also digitize the collection. He picked them up & disappeared. It was a naive young mistake as it was a great collection.
There has been a massive resurgence in vinyl sales lately with loads of old classics being remastered and repressed. Is this a good thing and why? Discuss….
I think it's a great thing. I've managed to collect so many great classics that have been repressed. Big thanks to Mark Ranger for my Redskin, Kemet & Third Party collection. Big up Reinforced for the consistent Tom & Jerry & Reinforced releases. It's great to see a new generation hearing the quality & creativity of the early 90's era. It's bringing the spirit of the original rave sound to the present day ravers. I personally love it!
Do you think the vinyl thing will grow or fizzle out? discuss your reasoning…
It's definitely a very expensive game for both the labels, pressing plants & DJ's. We're on our fourth vinyl release for our Inner City Dance/ Stereo One Music project and it's a struggle. I hope that the factories can maintain and keep up with the demand. Vinyl sets roll out differently. I find I play vinyl very differently than when I play Digital sets. I love the feel. don't love carrying the crates! haha
The sound of the early 90’s hardcore and jungle has come full circle with lots of young people, who were not even born first time round, adopting this sound, buying records and even producing music in this style… Its amazing… whats your thoughts on this and how is it going to effect the future of the scene?
I think the early 90's rave sounds coming back in is a great thing for the current crop of music. I can hear alot of hardcore elements influencing DNB lately & I love it. It provides more creativity and you get that energy & excitement from the early rave sound but with current production values. I've been playing alot of that sound at DNB events & people are really taking to it. The more variety, melody & music the better IMO. I think that some producers forget that the musical elements need to be there. Some only focus on the beats & bass manipulation. For me personally it's the music in the songs that gets me going and keeps me interested.
How does the newly produced hardcore / jungle compare to the original stuff in your opinion?
It really depends on who is crafting it. Settledown for me is making hit after hit. He has quality production value but also captures that original jungle feel. This new crop of Producers are bringing in new angles. I don't like to compare the new & the old. There's definitely more than enough new music being made that can compare to the classics. It's harder to get a 'big' tune these days as there is so much music out there and everyone is trying to play a set of unique tunes. There is so much great music being made. it's an exciting time. We really need to big up bandcamp for giving a platform to old & new labels as they have helped grow the music all over the globe.
So Inner City Dance… Tell us about the label. How, when, why did you start it… What are your goals and aspirations for the label?
Inner City Dance was started almost 10 + years ago by myself & DJ Lush. Originally it was just meant to be an outlet for my productions but over the years we've had most of Torontos top Producers feature on the label. When we sign or put out anything these days we always ask ourselves how well the track will age over time. We definitely are not following current trends. If we love it and we think it will stand the test of time then we put it out.
Whats the latest release on Inner City Dance (vinyl) and whats coming up in the near future?
The latest vinyl release that is forthcoming is by Krugah out of Brownsville New York City. A track called 'To the Future' & Raggamuffin Junglist. This will be our 4th release for the label. A purple translucent vinyl. We are extremely proud of this release and it's been getting great support & feedback from Jungle DJ's across the board. Krugah is one of the most prolific & unique Drum Funk artists to hit the Jungle scene recently.
What other projects do you have lined up??
My next digital release the 'Strictly Culture' EP is on promo now and will drop on May 22nd via Cygnus distribution worldwide. It features a hardcore Jungle style track called 'Nitty Gritty' a little nod to Mickey Finn on 'Strictly Culture' & a dubwise roller called 'Unifying Force'. The Digital releases for our label will be dropping one per month over the summer so watch out for those. I've also done a mix that we're hoping to release on Spotify featuring many of the 160-165 Productions. I have a 3 track EP forthcoming for Frodo at Tempo Records that will hopefully see the light of day in the next year.
FINAL QUESTION…. From the heart… please tell me, what jungle music means to you… And what you see as your mission as a producer/promoter/label in the jungle scene.
Jungle music has been my entire life since the early 90's. It keeps me sane in this crazy world. Musical therapy. I'm a full time artist, Producer & DJ. It's given me a great life with the opportunity to travel and meet so many great people from all over the world. My hope is keep contributing to the music via my labels, Podcast & radio show. I have my new Visionary Mix Show which airs the last Saturday of every month from 2-4 GMT on the brand new Kool F.M. I also have my Marcus Visionary Podcast via my YouTube channel. I'm up to my 5th podcast. I'm also happy to be a bridge from the U.K to Toronto to the rest of Canada & the United States. Toronto has been a key jump off point for touring DJ's & Producers from the U.K since the early 90's.
Shouts to your peeps?
Shout out to my label partner DJ Lush who works really hard with our admin, the vinyl, the digital and listening to all of my creative ideas. Big shout to my girlfriend Christiane who is my rock & is very supportive. Shout to my entire family. Massive shout to our entire camp of artists from Inner City Dance. Big shout to Eastman & Suzy G, Uncle Dugs, Geeneus & the whole Kool F.M family.
Links / contact information:
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for any booking inquiries.
You can catch Marcus dropping a guest mix on my show tomorrow.
Thursday 27th April 2023. 10am - Midday UK time.
You can tune in LIVE here: https://www.eruptionradio.uk/player/
If you miss the show you can listen back here: https://podcast.vinyljunkie.uk